As an early-stage entrepreneur, whenever you leave the bat-cave for air and sunlight, you are almost always pitching. Whether it's on stage with life-changing VCs, in a boardroom with a sales lead, or convincing your spouse not to leave you because your pursuit is deemed crazy, the pitch will determine your future.
1. It's all about the packaging - If you've ever bought a bottle of water for $3, you've participated in proper packaging (or timely location). Your presentation determines your product's first impression and perceived value. Your amazing business idea is intangible, so materialize the thought that solely resides in your head into a vision you can share.
Stunning slides - especially your first one - are worth the time. Your audience will most likely have a few minutes to look at your first slide before you go on stage or answer the conference call. Whether you like it or not, that's the slide they will give the most attention to, so set the tone that speaks volume about your personality. All following slides should have a consistent theme to solidify your branding.
2. Pitch Yourself - Founders should always pitch their own presentations - even if someone else is a better speaker. You can improve presentation skills but you can't artificially inject passion. This is your baby, no one else can convey the vision like you can, so don't hire the nanny to breast-feed your newborn. Pitch solo, it's difficult enough to hold someone's attention, let alone stumbling to sync up the presentation. It's often clunky when presenters talk over one another and have that awkward pause (hmm... are you going to take this one or should I?).
3. Tell a Story - It's much more compelling in your own words. Forget the standard packing lists of competitive advantages or market analysis...etc. It's going to come off like an accountant showing pie-charts of your monthly expenses. Imagine a friend asking you about your brilliant new idea, what would you say in 5 minutes? Record yourself and speak freely - that's the speech you should go with because it will flow with the most logical sense and people resonate with one core idea. It will also be the most natural to you. The real you will seep through and when it comes to closing a sale or making an impression, people remember your personality, not your mission statement.
4. We need to break things - Tell me it's durable and I will immediately drop it on the ground. Remember that episode of Dragon's Den with the indestructible bear-proof garbage can? One of the 190-lbs dragon immediately jumped on top of it - and broke it. End of pitch. Let that be a lesson to you. (And if you are selling bear-proof garbage cans that cant withstand human, even a perfect pitch won't save you from lawsuits.) After explaining your price point and revenue model, your whole audience will come up with reasons why people wont buy it - it's annoying but we do it all the time. It's human nature to challenge things. Before the doubt lingers, shatter the critic in them by following up with bullet-proof research.
5. So What? - Each one of your slides should answer that question with one solid point. You wrote the content so if you cant even answer it, how can the audience (with their blackberrys blinking)? No fillers allowed! What? You are afraid of having too much time? In that case, end early and have a break. Every word in your presentation is taking up valuable time so don't fill it with technical jargon, or fancy words. "I think..." or "We believe..." are empty calories that are distracting. "We are trying to..." should also be avoided. Trying means no, Oprah said so. You are not trying, you are doing it. Be concise and interesting.
6. Cut The Fat - Just because Guy Kawasaki said you should have certain topics, doesn't mean you need them all, pick the ones you are good at. It's much more powerful to have a solid pitch with only 8 points than a watered-down pitch covering everything. Every presenter thinks they will make $50 million in a few years, put the magic 8 ball away and skip the 500% growth chart. Highlight your strength and focus on your story. Your only goal here is to be interesting and inspiring. Turn them into a believer and they will ask you numbers after. Get to the next stage of the game.
7. Be Sexy - I'm not talking about the high-heeled boots, yet. Explain what you do in the first 30 seconds. Successful people with great time management skills will walk out of your pitch because they have better things to do. Use the first minute of your presentation wisely. Make an impact right away and summarize the 3 main points of your pitch - if nothing else, you might change their mind about answering your email in the future. Sense of humor and personality are key when delivering your speech, you are most likely one of many presenters, stand out. Even though your speech is well planned, it shouldn't come out mechanical. You just happen to know it so well, but it should come out the same as your conversation with friends. Plan your jokes ahead of time and gauge your audience - turn it up or down depending on the vibe.
8. Practice your timing - If you are given 5 minutes, make sure your pitch ends 4 minutes and 45 seconds. If you are on stage, they will most likely time you rigorously with a buzzer. Personally, I go off on a tangent whenever I ad-lib, people tend to over-explain when they are nervous. Make sure your speech is written out, so it forces you not to over elaborate on some points and go over your given time. Practice no less than 30 times so you can edit the sentences that have words you trip over.
9. Visualize - Just like athletes before a big game, see your victory. A dress rehearsal might even be necessary (Yes, that's right, you just realized this is written by a girl). Imagine yourself being called up, going on stage, clicking on the remote and dont forget to time yourself. Your last few runs should always hit the same time you've planned. This will increase confidence and ensure you are just that much more comfortable presenting publicly - because let's be honest, anything helps at this point.
10. Wear High Heels - This tip is strictly reserved for the ladies. While it's important to look your best, having a kick ass business model, being in market and showing traction might just be the most important tip of all.
Pitching is difficult, especially to introverts like myself. However, with planning and practice, it's a skill you can definitely improve on and it's the most important skill to have - whether you'd like to secure a round of financing or close a sales lead. Good luck and great success!
My Wedding Match is happy to announce, since presenting at The Fusion Forum in November (and winning the Top 3 Award :), we have secured our first round of financing from W Media Ventures and various other angel investors. Watch the presentation...